VoV Standing By worked hard to keep Islanders in the know during storm


For The Beachcomber

Our recent winter storm proves once and for all that Vashon Island truly is at the center of everything. We’re centered between Seattle and Tacoma, centered between the mainland and the peninsula, and for “Winter Storm ’08,” we were centered between the worst of the wind and the worst of the snow.

With the strongest winds to our east and the heaviest snows to our west, Vashon and Maury Islands dodged a bullet. We suffered only scattered power outages that were never widespread, with most lasting just a few hours.

For the volunteers at Voice of Vashon Standing By, the event provided a kind of learning laboratory in which we could improve and perfect our information gathering and dissemination skills.

We recorded and broadcast more than 40 bulletins over the course of the storm. If you tuned to 1650 AM during a trip into town for supplies, you’d have heard up-to-the-minute information regarding power, weather, roads, transit, ferries and closures on Vashon.

“I knew I was working with a virtual team, not in a vacuum,” said Karen du Four des Champs, who anchored the updates during some of the heaviest snowfall. “I had support, resources and advice all around me that I could tap into.”

Much of the information came in the form of regular updates from VashonBePrepared (VBP), which had its emergency response team on standby in case things took a turn for the worse.

Throughout each day, VBP gathered updated information from Puget Sound Energy, King County Roads and Metro, the ferry system and the National Weather Service.

VoV Standing By then broadcast the information, while volunteer Dan Schueler posted the scripts online at

An e-mail blast to more than 700 Islanders resulted in regular “eyes on the ground” reports throughout the storm that could be passed along on the radio.

Island bus driver Robert Teagardin called in conditions reports and Metro updates from scattered bus stops along his route.

By tapping the Vashon Digital Alliance on its collective cyber-shoulder, subscribers to the popular online Island community were able to update VoV Standing By via iPhone and Blackberry as they struggled with their commutes to Seattle and Tacoma.

“We’re all glad we didn’t get hit with the ‘storm of biblical proportions’ that many of the more excitable broadcasters were talking about,” said Rick Wallace of VashonBePrepared. “We learned a lot about the teamwork it takes to gather public service information and put it out there.”

The fact that the storm hit just a month or so before we expand our signal to cover the rest of Vashon and Maury Islands was just an unfortunate accident of timing.

It would have been so gratifying to complete our emergency broadcasting network across both Islands by the time the snowflakes began to fall.

As it happens, thanks to fundraising efforts by the Vashon Island Rotary Club, along with grants from King County and VashonBePrepared, the steel for tower number two is already sitting on top of one of the Heights Water tanks, waiting to be assembled and activated some time in early-to-mid-January.

Shortly after that, transmitter three will be installed at the Dockton Fire Station on Maury Island. By spring, we plan to have signs posted around the Island that will flash whenever urgent information is being broadcast on 1650 AM.

It’s all coming together, in precisely the same spirit that Islanders, volunteers and public agencies all came together during the recent winter storm to keep the information flowing on Voice of Vashon Standing By.

— Jeff Hoyt is the emergency broadcasting coordinator for Voice of Vashon Standing By.

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